Inuvik's 50th ski loppet unites local cross-country ski legend with the next generation

Inuvik's 50th annual ski loppet unites local cross-country ski legend Sharon Firth with the next generation.

The 3-day event begins Friday and will include a 100m race and 15km race

Sharon Firth and Holly Jones at the Inuvik Ski Club. Firth is an N.W.T. skiing legend who's come home for the ski loppet's 50th anniversary. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC )

Four time Olympian Sharon Firth is coming back home to where her cross-country skiing career began — the Top of the World Loppet in Inuvik, N.W.T.

"Just to come back to ski and talk with the children, it's something I really want to do," said Firth.

The loppet is an annual ski event that attracts skiers from across the North and even across the country. This year is its 50th anniversary. 

Firth as well as her late twin sister Shirley Firth were one of many who participated in the Territorial Experimental Ski Training (TEST) program, where Indigenous students who attended residential school in Inuvik were taught and competed in cross-country skiing.

Firth now lives in Yellowknife but is back just for the event, and hopes that the next generation will also fall in love with the sport.

"I started when I was 12 years old, so that's 52 years ago and I'm still doing cross-country skiing," said Firth.

"Cross-country skiing is a life sport. So we just want kids to come out and have fun and be with us and be at the top of the world and be a part of the 50th year celebration."

N.W.T.'s Sharon and Shirley Firth, twin sisters who competed in cross-country skiing at four Olympic games, were inducted into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame. (Canada's Sports Hall of Fame )

'Top of the world' championships

Inuvik Ski Club representatives say they have about 35 people registered so far, and most are from outside of the region.

Holly Jones, the vice-president of the ski club, says this event has quite the history.

"This loppet is big. It was the top of the world ski championships for a long time. It was a sort of a national loppet race. There [were] skiers from Japan, Norway and Sweden," said Jones.

Jones said the event has now become more of a local feature.

Jones said that it's "a big group effort this year" with Cross Country NWT giving a hand.

'A hidden gem'

The three-day event will begin Friday evening with opening ceremonies, then over the next two days there will be the ski events including a 100-metre and 15-kilometre race.

"I think there are a lot of people who maybe don't get to access the trails as often as they could and I think it's sort of a hidden gem," said Jones.

"It makes sense to ski because we are in a place where there is not a readily accessible running track or ice hockey pond, ski trails are going to be there."

For those who don't want to ski, they can participate by taking part in the renaming contest of some of the ski trails.

Organizers expect most locals will register the day of, and Firth is hopeful this will be a family affair.

"Children imitate their parents. So if your parents are out there exercising that's what kids are going to do," Firth said, "You feel so much better when you exercise … I just wish everybody will come out and ski with us."

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